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Youthful generation of GMs taking charge

Youthful generation of GMs taking charge

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Baseball, laced with timeworn tradition as it is, won't be called the "Grand Young Game" anytime soon.

But a quick ID check of the executives running Major League franchises trends toward a new, decidedly more youthful generation of general managers. Those in the Hot Stove hot seats no longer have to be hardscrabble baseball lifers proudly relying merely on gut intuition, deal-making savvy and what their eyes show them on the field.

Over the last quarter-century, teams have evolved into risk-management assessors, unafraid to bring in the right person, no matter what the age.

And the qualifications seem to be very similar: a very good (Ivy League, in many cases) college education with a focus on business usually doesn't hurt, some experience in a Major League front office is a plus, and unrequited love of the marriage between sabermetrics and scouts seems to do the trick.

This year, six of the 30 clubs will break camp in Spring Training with GMs under the age of 40, and another nine GMs who were hired at 40 or younger will still be on their posts. That's half the league on the young plan, with current Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who acts as the club's GM, having two World Series rings (1987, 1991) as a GM of the Minnesota Twins at the ages of 34 and 38.

The headliner of the current group, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, was hired by Boston in November 2002 at the age of 28, which at the time made him the youngest GM in baseball history. Since then, he's led the Red Sox to World Series crowns in 2004 and 2007. His record was eclipsed by Jon Daniels, who was tabbed for the head post of the Texas Rangers in October 2005 at the age of 28 years and 41 days. And the recent promotion of Alex Anthopoulos to GM of the Blue Jays has given the league another 32-year-old in charge.

There's also Arizona's Josh Byrnes, St. Louis' John Mozeliak, San Diego's just-hired Jed Hoyer, Tampa Bay's Andrew Friedman, Pittsburgh's Neal Huntington, the Yankees' Brian Cashman, Kansas City's Dayton Moore, Cleveland's Mark Shapiro, Kenny Williams of the Chicago White Sox, the Angels' Tony Reagins, Colorado's Dan O'Dowd, and Oakland's original "Moneyball" man, Billy Beane. All were hired as GMs at 40 or younger.

Beane, of course, almost took the Boston job in 2003 but went back to the A's, paving the way for the new poster child for the young GM movement.

When Epstein dons grunge clothes and steps out onto a stage at a Boston music club to strum his guitar at a yearly charity concert, it's a fitting image, because he truly is the rock star of Major League general managers.

When he was hired, the Red Sox hadn't won a World Series in 85 years. Two Octobers later, they were celebrating, in large part because of Epstein's moxie. He singlehandedly proved that going young with a GM is not necessarily a foolish choice.

Epstein, a Brookline, Mass., native and graduate of Yale University who cut his teeth in the Padres organization, reshaped the franchise in his second month on the job by signing slugger David Ortiz, who had been released by the Minnesota Twins.

And in the offseason following his team's seven-game loss to the Yankees in the 2003 American League Championship Series, he flew out to Arizona and spent Thanksgiving at Curt Schilling's home, getting the right-hander to approve the trade that would help lead to the 2004 crown. The list goes on.

But it's more about building an organization, and when Epstein was hired, he said he intended to turn the Red Sox into a "scouting and player development machine." So far, so good, and in the meantime, Epstein's front office has become a Major League GM development machine.

Byrnes and Hoyer both worked under Epstein. His other right-hand man, senior vice president and assistant GM Ben Cherington, will probably be highly sought after when another opening presents itself, as will former Red Sox executive Peter Woodfork, a Harvard alumnus now serving under Byrnes in Arizona as the D-backs' VP and assistant GM.

Daniels, meanwhile, graduated from Cornell University, started in baseball as a Rockies intern in 2001, and was named Rangers GM in 2005. Texas won 87 games last year and has one of the highest-rated farm systems in the game.

And Friedman, who had a background in financial analysis and investment banking when hired by Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg, a financial securities executive, took the core of organizational talent passed on to him by predecessor Chuck LaMar in Tampa Bay and helped guide the Rays to their first World Series appearance in 2008.

"There's been a lot of ownership changes over the years, and I think as new owners come in, especially owners who don't have backgrounds in baseball, they look at it in a more business-like and analytical fashion, as they would in other businesses," said Gerry Hunsicker, the former Houston GM who now works with Friedman as the Rays' senior VP of baseball operations.

"Billy Beane and 'Moneyball' really jump-started the approach to statistical analysis, which most of the young guys are in tune to and have backgrounds to various degrees in. As dollars in baseball grew and the financial stakes became greater, I suspect owners were looking for fresh approaches and new ways of doing things that maybe, to them, seemed more substantive than the traditional baseball methods, which tend to be very subjective."

Enter the new breed, although hiring young GMs is not exactly a new practice.

Randy Smith, the current Padres director of player development, was the youngest GM in baseball history when San Diego hired him in 1993 at the age of 29. He points out that the combination of turnover in the industry and the overall change in philosophy to a never-ending search for and aggregation of all kinds of information, has made the job more suitable for younger people.

"It's a very demanding job from a time standpoint and with the stress level," Smith says. "There is no such thing as free time. It is 365 [days a year], 24 hours a day."

But there's also no specific formula for instant success. While Epstein already boasts a gaudy resume studded with World Series diamonds and Friedman was named The Sporting News' Executive of the Year in 2008, one can point to Jack Zduriencik, who's entering his second year at the helm of the Seattle Mariners.

Zduriencik, at 59, is currently baseball's oldest GM, but he also engineered the biggest single-season improvement in the Majors last year when he guided the Mariners to an 85-77 record a year after the club finished 61-101 under former GM Bill Bavasi.

Then again, Zduriencik was the first Mariners GM to institute a department of statistical analysis, and the numbers his assistant Tony Blengino comes up with are integral to the decision-making process.

That, according to Hunsicker, is the key.

"You can't be close-minded to anything," Hunsicker says. "At the end of day, the GM makes decisions on how much weight to put on all sources of information, from scouts and from statistics. And that's when it becomes interesting, because there's no manual that comes with these jobs to tell you how to win.

"That's where the art of this business comes into play. ... In this game, nobody survives for any length of time without being humble."

Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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